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IRVINE : School Has TLC Along With ABCs

School was never a pleasant place for 12-year-old Chris Smith, a loner who was often taunted by classmates for everything from not knowing an answer in class to missing a catch on the football field. He was the boy who didn’t fit in.

But Chris, and other students like him, have found a haven at the Mardan Center of Educational Therapy in Irvine, where students of normal intelligence learn to build the academic skills, self-confidence and friendships that they may be lacking.

“A lot of these kids are, for whatever reason, unhappy in the public school system,” said teacher Jan Gartner. “Public school is just too large a situation for them, and they feel isolated. Here they don’t have all the pressures of the world, and the environment here helps the child to develop in every way.”

Mardan is a private, nonprofit school for students between the ages of 3 and 18. The school was founded in 1962 by David A. Eisenman, who still serves as its executive director.

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“I realized that there were no programs for kids with average intelligence who were having problems,” Eisenman said. “They had special education for the retarded and the blind, but no classes for the kids who needed extra, specialized techniques to get them through.”

Eisenman’s school has taught more than 4,000 students since 1962, when his dream began in a tiny office in Costa Mesa with two students.

Today, an average of 100 students attend Mardan each year. In January, the school relocated from Costa Mesa to a new, $6.5-million facility in Irvine with eight classrooms, a gym, a kitchen and numerous smaller rooms.

Fund-raising for the new facility was boosted this month when the Irvine Health Foundation, which supports health education and research in the greater Irvine area, offered to match donations up to $200,000 and pledged an additional, unrestricted $300,000 over the next three years, said Judge David Sills, foundation chairman. Mardan raised the matching $200,000 in donations.

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Most of the students spend two to three years at Mardan before returning to public schools. Some, like Chris Smith, work to develop self-confidence. Others, who display short attention spans or impulsive behavior, learn to take responsibility for their actions, Eisenman said.

“We give students the message that they are not dumb or stupid, and despite the fact that they may be having problems, they’re OK,” Eisenman said. “Here, they get the support they need to move on with their lives. They are sat down and told of their potential and told that they have the potential to succeed.

“We want to see these kids get through high school and be productive individuals instead of ending up being a burden on society and winding up in prison or a psychiatric facility.”

Classes take place in an intimate setting where there are two teachers for every six students.

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This special kind of education doesn’t come cheap. It costs $89 a day to attend Mardan, said Edith Ritz, program administrator. More than half of the students are privately placed by their parents, while others are referred by public schools. Many students attend with the help of a partial scholarship.

“Our students come from all walks of life,” Eisenman said. “We want to be able to offer help to all kids.”


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